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William Frederick Poole

The originator of this series of indexes, long known as the Nestor of American librarianship, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, December 14, 1821. His parents were Ward and Eliza (Wilder) Poole, and his American ancestry runs back to John Poole, who was settled in Cambridge in 1632, and in 1635 became the leading proprietor of Reading, which was named for the town in England from which he came.

William’s decided bent for letters was not early developed, and it was not until he had spent several years of his later boyhood in outdoor work with his father on the farm or in the tanyard, and some months in learning the jewelry business, that he finally settled down to study and was fitted for college at Leicester Academy. Entering Yale College in 1842, he found it necessary, after the first year, to seek funds for the further prosecution of his studies. Three years were devoted to teaching for this purpose, and in 1846 he reentered college as a sophomore, graduating with the class of 1849, of which President Dwight was a member.

During his sophomore year he became assistant librarian of his society, the Brothers in Unity, which had a library of about 10,000 volumes. The practical good sense which was always so characteristic of the man led him to observe the great value of the contents of the bound sets of periodicals with which the library was well furnished, and with characteristic industry he set to work to make a manuscript index by which these otherwise hidden treasures might be brought to light. No sooner was this index put into service than its great value became apparent and there arose a demand for its publication, which was effected in 1848, through Mr. George P. Putnam, of New York. The first edition was a small octavo of 154 pages. The book met with a warm reception, both in this county and in Europe, whence orders came for more than the entire edition, which was small. Thus encouraged, Mr. Poole commenced upon a larger work of similar character, which was published by C.B. Norton, in New York, in. 1853, when Mr Poole had become librarian of the Mercantile Library in Boston.

In a few years this edition was exhausted, but Mr Poole was too busy to undertake the compilation of another; it was not until 1876 that he outlined to the conference of librarians held in Philadelphia, in connection with the Centennial Exposition, his scheme for the cooperative production of a new and greatly enlarged edition. His plan met ready acceptance and was successfully carried out, resulting in the large work published in 1882, to which this is the third “five year” supplement.

Mr Poole was successively librarian of the Mercantile Library of Boston, the Boston Athenaeum, the public libraries of Cincinnati and Chicago, and the Newberry Library in the latter city. He was from the first a leader in the public library movement, which had its rise just as he came upon the stage, and to which he largely gave shape and direction. He was an active participant in the first convention of American libraries, held in New York in 1853, and was also one of the founders of the American Library Association in 1876, a constant attendant upon its meetings, and a frequent contributor to the Library Journal. With other American librarians, he attended the first International Conference of librarians in London in 1877, and was one of the vice-presidents of that meeting. He was always an intense believer in the underlying principles of the public library movement, had special sympathy with its freer and more popular aspects, and was an opponent of restrictive principles in library management. He did much to elucidate the subject of library architecture, especially to discredit the conventional and formal styles as applied to library buildings, and to introduce simplicity and adaptability as prime factors in their construction. In 1869 he was occupied for some months as a library expert, organizing libraries in several places in New England, as well as at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; and during his residence in Chicago he rendered similar service for several of the larger towns in the West.

While thus active in the library work, Mr Poole found opportunity to pursue close and exhaustive studies in the field of American history, and published many papers on the witchcraft delusion, the history of slavery in America, the early settlements on the Maine coast, the Ordinance of 1787 and kindred subjects; his success in this kind of research gained for him the distinction of the presidency of the American Historical Association in 1887. In 1882 he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

In 1893 Dr Poole took an active part in the arrangements for the literary congresses connected with the Columbian Exposition. Especially the World’s Congress of Librarians. His arduous labors at that time, followed by others incurred in the removal of the Newberry Library to its new building the following winter, doubtless undermined his system, and he died in March 1, 1894, after a brief and apparently trifling illness.

Dr Poole was a fine example of the mens sana in sano corpore. Enjoying perfect health in all his life, his commanding presence and benign expression were truly representative of the strength and sweetness of his mental and moral character. To know him was to admire him for his gifts of person and of mind, and to be drawn to him by his large humanity and his earnest friendliness. In his life, as in his writings, he showed a native instinct for that which is honorable and of good report, and a corresponding dislike of all sham and pretence. No qualities were dearer to him than candor and sincerity, and it was the lack of these elements in the historical writings he reviewed that provoked his sharpest censure. In his own circle he came at last to be spoken of as “the good Doctor.” His immediate co-laborers and his associates in the American Library Association have joined to honor his memory by placing his bust in bronze in the magnificent new building of the Chicago Public Library. The institution itself is largely his monument, as it owes very much of what it is to him.

But his chief memorial must always be his Index to Periodical Literature. In its preparation he found delight and recreation; the tokens of its widespread acceptance and usefulness gave him the best satisfaction of his life. Through it he has achieved the truest fame, - great and abiding service to humanity.


Users of the last Supplement to Poole’s Index will remember that its preface commenced with a playful allusion to Dr Poole’s withdrawal from the collaboration, a withdrawal supposed to be temporary, and guarded by him with the proviso that he might resume the work when the pressure of other duties was somewhat lightened. But this was not to be. In a little more that a year after the date of that preface the life that had been so strong and so vigorous that one hardly associated with age with it, even at seventy, was suddenly terminated in the midst of the activities of a busy and useful career. It has seemed fitting that this first issue of the Index after his death should bear his portrait and a slight biographical sketch.

The name of Poole, which must always be connected with this series of indexes, is now most pleasantly re-associated with it through the engagement, as co-editor of this Supplement, of Dr Poole’s nephew, Mr Franklin O. Poole, A.B. (Harvard, ’95,) Assistant in the Boston Athenaeum Library. He has indexed over three hundred volumes for it, and has given much valuable assistance in the compilation of the material and the reading of the proofs.

It will be observed that this Supplement is one-third larger than either of the previous five year volumes. The number of periodicals requiring inclusion in such an index is largely on the increase. Of the 187 sets covered by this volume, sixty are new, that is, have not been included in any previous issue, and of these, forty-two have had their origin since 1891. This increase is only partially offset by the dropping out of twenty-three sets which were represented in the list of five years ago, the net gain being thirty-seven. The number of volumes covered by this Supplement is 1,388 as against 1,068 in the previous one.

A comparison of the tables prefixed to Poole’s Index and its supplements brings out some interesting facts as to the life of periodicals. In these tables a new entry is made for a periodical when it begins a new series with the name changed. On this basis the whole number of periodicals indexed in “Poole” from the beginning is 407, of which number 195, or 48 per cent., were continued beyond the year 1891.

The following tabular statement makes a striking exhibit of the rapid rise and fall of periodicals, although, if it took in all such publications instead of being confined to the comparatively substantial ones included in “Poole,” the phenomena would be much more noteworthy.

DecadePoole sets originatedDiscontinuedNet gain

Among the periodicals now first indexed are the Christian Union (now Outlook) and the Independent. The contents of these papers have not been thoroughly indexed, references being made only to “symposiums,” or to unusually extended and important single articles. The Book Buyer, Book News, and Book Reviews are indexed only by references to their important articles, largely notices of authors with portraits. The entire set of the Magazine of Art (Cassell’s) is here indexed, and its great store of valuable material on all art subjects thus becomes available.

Somewhat over two-thirds of the matter contained in this Supplement has appeared from year to year under the same editorship and collaboration, as one of the features of the Annual Literary Index, issued from the office of the Library Journal, in New York.

William I. Fletcher

Amherst College Library

October 1, 1897

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